In the new musical “The Diary,” Kimberly Hessler plays the role of Anne Frank. Kimberly is a recent graduate of USC with a Bachelor of Music degree in vocal performance. She lives in the Los Angeles area and is currently exploring musical theater and singing opportunities. Her goals include the usual places (Broadway, Chicago) as well as traveling abroad. Recently I attended a rehearsal of “The Diary” and was struck by Kimberly’s extraordinary poise and singing and acting abilities in this difficult role. We chatted about the show, which has been a labor of love for composer Lloyd Cooper and his wife Barbara, who also acts in the show.
VCOS: How did you hear about “The Diary” and what was your initial reaction to the idea?
KIMBERLY: A mutual friend of the Coopers’ and mine suggested that I audition for the production. I was curious to see how such an iconic story would be approached in the form of a musical and what new perspectives it would offer.
VCOS: Had you heard of Lloyd Cooper?
KIMBERLY: No, I had not.
VCOS: Had you read “The Diary of Anne Frank”? Did you have any thoughts on how a musical about her might be approached?
KIMBERLY: I did not finish reading “The Diary of Anne Frank” until after being cast. By that point I was aware that there would be a present day and past Anne. In reading Anne Frank’s words with this knowledge, I was able to find more in her story, look for character nuances, and think about how I might have reacted to being in her position and how I might have related to it when I was thirteen. As I was reading, I found myself wondering which parts could/would be included and what aspects might be set to music. When I finally did read the script, I was very pleasantly surprised by the variety of the Lloyds’ music and how it serves Anne’s words.
VCOS: “The Diary” can be viewed in many ways: simply as a slice of history, a morality tale, or maybe something on a more widesweeping basis. What does it mean to you?
KIMBERLY: My favorite aspect about “The Diary” is that it gives an account of history in a new context. While you see the historical moments take place, you are also reminded that they relate to the feelings that people still feel everyday. It has a unique way of integrating history into the present day, and making it more accessible to the audience.
VCOS: If you were Anne Frank’s friend, what would you say to her?
KIMBERLY: I would tell her that I admire her strength, dedication and spunk. She wasn’t one to let things go without a fight and I love that her words fought on after her death to tell her story.
VCOS: Tell me about the songs you sing as Anne. How are you able to get inside her head to get the most out of the songs?
KIMBERLY: The songs that I sing as Anne are full of emotion. The highs and lows of being a teenager were all contained in her diary and all of the words in my songs are directly related to what she wrote. Although it has been some years since I was thirteen, I can still remember those conflicting feelings, as I’m sure most people do. With my own experience and the words of Anne Frank’s diary in mind, I try to immerse myself in the emotions of each piece.
VCOS: You are basically creating this role, since this is the first fully staged production of the show. Does this make you feel differently about this character than others you’ve played?
KIMBERLY: Of course it is different to create a role than to recreate it, and I am honored to have this opportunity to work with the writers of a new show. I am sure there will be many others to follow, but I hope that I do the role justice and set the right tone for future performers to expand upon. This is part of the magic of theater. Every production and performer brings something different to a show. I may be “creating” this role, but I don’t think I am setting the character in stone. I hope to see many more varied and potent portrayals of Anne Frank in future performances of “The Diary.”
VCOS: What is special or unique about this show to you?
KIMBERLY: This show is a challenge in terms of story, music, set, and more. I have loved seeing the process of working through the challenges of a new show and finding solutions. I think the most unique thing about the show is the two time periods displayed on opposite sides of the stage. The switching between these worlds is what makes the show come alive. It gives Anne Frank’s story a timeless quality and offers a medium for the audience to immerse itself into two drastically different worlds at once.
VCOS: Allan Hunt, the show’s director, is of course, a seasoned veteran, with many years’ work as a director, not only professionally, but with younger students at Oak Park High School. How has he been to work with?
KIMBERLY: Allan Hunt has been a joy to work with. His peaceful and thoughtful demeanor brings a calm to the stressful rehearsal process. He gives us the freedom to create while suggesting what he believes the number or scene contains and how he hopes it will affect the audience.
Lloyd & Barbara Cooper’s “The Diary” plays for five performances at the Scherr Forum in Thousand Oaks beginning Thursday, August 22. For dates and show times, see the VC On Stage Calendar of Events.